Nintendo's E3 2008 showing is often remembered as one of the darkest marks in the company's reputation. With little announced in the way of actual games, and what was announced was simply more casual stuff, with aside from Animal Crossing, none of Nintendo's traditional IP shown. The icing on the cake was the painfully awkward and cringe worthy demo of Wii Music. The event was so bad, even the late Satoru Iwata admitted it was a train-wreck.
But I feel the reactions to this were always a bit misguided, even a little undeserved. For months you had baseless fear mongering about "Nintendo is abandoning the hardcore gamers" and somehow regurgitating the same "I'm done with Nintendo because they don't pander to hardcore mature gamers like myself" rhetoric would get you an Emmy in most gaming echo-chambers. But all of those are completely inaccurate to where E3 08 actually went wrong.
You see, 2006 and 2007 were amazing years for Nintendo on both the Wii, and the DS. These two years are perhaps regarded as the most prolific years in the company's history to date. 2006 had Nintendo firing out DS games left and right every month as the system started catching on with the general public, bolstered by the surprise success of Touch Generations titles like Brain Age and the critically acclaimed DS Lite hardware makeover. But none of that compared to what came next in November. Against all the odds of it failing, the launch of the Wii became 2006's biggest success story in the gaming market. It seemed over night that this odd and under-powered new console became an instant pop culture phenomenon. Hitting the ground running right away with the pack-in title Wii Sports, which demonstrated the Wii both philosophically, and technologically, as it introduced gaming to those who had no interest in it before, and remains one of the most influential games of its era. Coupled with the long delayed, and highly anticipated launch of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for Nintendo fans, the Wii exceeded everyone's expectations.
And the ball just kept rolling in 2007, Nintendo followed up 2006 with an equally impressive 2007, a constant stream of first party games still powered the DS' monster sales numbers, with titles for the non-gamer like Picross DS, and those for Nintendo fans like Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, combined with improving third party support. And while third parties continued to struggle figuring out what to do with the Wii and its new controller, Nintendo was setting multiple examples with WarioWare Smooth Moves, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and the Ground Breaking Super Mario Galaxy. It seemed like there was just no stopping Nintendo.
Which brings us to 2008, Nintendo was still high on the momentum of the Wii and DS, with Super Smash Bros. Brawl finally releasing, and Mario Kart Wii coming shortly afterwards. But there was a sign things were slowing down compared to last year. With third parties still skeptical, even outright dismissive of the Wii, the infamous Nintendo droughts, started by the Nintendo 64, began to rear their ugly head yet again, and shovel-ware, cheap, quick, and low-quality software that creeps into every massively popular console, started becoming more noticeable. So when E3 was around the corner, many would hope Nintendo would have something to combat these issues and re-assure that things were still going according to plan. Turns out, that didn't happen. July came, and all we got was an Up-rezed Wild World, continued lack of third party interest, and the disastrous showing of Wii Music. Aside from a few noteworthy titles, 2008 was perhaps one of Nintendo's weakest and least prolific years ever.
So what went wrong? Well for starters, Nintendo burned through all their resources trying to keep both the Wii and DS afloat for 2006 and 2007, this left them with very little to show or release in 2008, and thus, had to pad out the time with something. Beyond that, E3 in general was just depressing that year, as the event continued the scaled back, business-focused format it introduced the year prior, which reduced both the hype and awareness of the show as a whole. And with third parties still slow to react, this left Nintendo in a very problematic situation, that they didn't prepare for. I know people like to point to Reggie's "we gave you Animal Crossing!" quote as he tried to damage control E3, but he was simply trying to make light out of an awkward situation, so there wasn't much he could do to ease tensions. Nintendo made stides to learn from 2008 the following year, announcing the return of Sin & Punishment and Punch-Out!! for Wii, a few months after E3, and tried to make 2009 a more balanced year, with third party developers finally starting to get it (though it may have been too little, too late).
E3 08 sucked, we know this, but it's important to understand why it sucked.